KWEKWE- Police and illegal panners are engaged in furious running battles here following the invasion of Sherwood Farm by panners searching for alluvial gold. The injured were admitted at Kwekwe General Hospital. Police have, however, denied reports of fatalities saying only two suspected gold panners were injured.
However, some illegal gold panners and buyers yesterday claimed there were fatalities. They claimed that one of the deceased was a police detective who was involved in an accident while fleeing from the police. A policeman was also arrested while panning for gold.
Heavily armed police have since been deployed in the area. No one, even policemen and soldiers not deployed to the area are allowed to enter the gold fields. A gold panner who spoke on condition of anonymity said said hundreds of panners and buyers raided the area in search of the precious mineral.
“The gold was discovered by members of an Apostolic Sect using metal detectors on December 26 last year. They bought a fleet of cars which shocked residents in the town,” he said. The gold panners reportedly tracked down the sect members and discovered the goldfields.
The panners have since descended on the farm in search of gold. Police have since then been engaged in running battles with the panners. Midlands provincial police spokesperson Inspector Patrick Chademana yesterday confirmed that they had sealed off the area to restore sanity.
“We want sanity to prevail while we identify the proper owners of the mining claim,” he said. Inspector Chademana said four people were claiming ownership and they were waiting for determination from the Ministry of Mines and Mining Development.
“Police have been called in and it is only after the Mining Commission has issued an order then the rightful owner will operate.” He said two people were attacked and injured by police dogs. “No one was killed. Only a few rogue thugs who intended to pan, threw stones at the police,” he said.
Insp Chademana said the two who were injured sustained bruises during the arrest. “We are not fighting the people and all we want is for sanity to prevail,” he said. He said according to reports, three people who had metal detectors discovered the alluvial gold in the bushy area.
The Herald yesterday visited the area and saw the armed police. Officials from the Environmental Management Agency visited the area to assess the situation. Some of the gold panners could be seen milling around the area. The panners are believed to have come from as far as Mutare while more were still expected to besiege the area.
This is not the first time gold panners have clashed with the police following the discovery of the precious mineral. In March 2010, police and panners in Chegutu were engaged in running battles following the discovery of gold near Hintonville suburb.
The gold deposits were reportedly discovered at a site belonging to Exor Service Station near the town centre in 2009. Ten people were arrested for contravening the Mines and Minerals Act.
Although the discovery triggered a mad rush by thousands of gold panners ZANU PF officials muscled in and declared that only loyal party supporters could mine there. Its reported ZANU PF convened a rally, attended by hundreds of panners, and announced that the party had taken over.
Speaking at the rally ZANU PF Midlands provincial security officer, Owen “Mudha” Ncube, is quoted by the NewsDay newspaper as saying: “ZANU PF had fought in the liberation struggle to ensure that Zimbabweans owned their land and the minerals in it and therefore had rights to control who mined at the fields.”
“Only the sons of Midlands will be allowed to enter the fields and they will do so through party structures, those that are not known within the party will not have access and those from outside the Midlands will not be allowed here,” Mudha said. He also chanted slogans denouncing MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
The paper said the Sherwood Block mining claim is now registered to Cornelius Mpereri, a close ally of Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, and to Josphats ‘Gold’ Sibanda, who also attended the rally. ZANU PF is already compiling a register of people who will be allowed to mine.
No formal procedures have been followed except that ZANU PF officials held a rally and made a declaration that they now own the mine. Its also reported the panners, “will be let into the fields in groups and will be allowed to keep a certain percentage of what they find,” while Sibanda and Mpereri will take their share.
Speaking to SW Radio Africa Farai Maguwu, who heads the Centre for Research and Development, said: “It’s a country where the law of the jungle, or survival of the fittest, is the rule of the game. Given the politicisation of this new find, and in light of the fact that the gold was discovered by ordinary hard-working Zimbabweans, who are now being forced out by those who abuse state security apparatus for personal gain, violence is inevitable.
Asked if there could be a repeat of the violence in Marange, Maguwu said: “It may not be as herculean as what happened in Marange diamonds fields three years ago, but the hard lesson we all got from Marange is that when politics and poverty come face to face in a resource area, there will be violence.”
SW Radio Africa understands the panner who made the initial gold discovery might have pocketed in the region of US$1.4 million if reports that his gold nugget weighed 38 kg are true. Given these huge sums, Maguwu’s prediction might come true. The Herald/ SW Radio Africa